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Monday
Dec 22nd

National issues influence local races

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This is one of the most unusual elections in modern history because, for all of the local issues, it is greatly influenced by three critical national factors.
This is one of the most unusual elections in modern history because, for all of the local issues, it is greatly influenced by three critical national factors.

The first of these is the “war on terrorism” and the possibility of a wider war on Iraq. George Bush came into the presidency floundering for a mandate to govern in the wake of his being given the office by the U.S. Supreme Court. What occurred on Sept. 11 accidentally gave him a golden opportunity to mount the mantle of military leader and accordingly, now the symbol of American resistance to “terrorism,” his favorability ratings have soared.

Then, White House political strategists Karl Rove encouraged Republicans running for office in 2002 to use the “war on terrorism” as campaign fodder. But Bush invented a much bolder project, a war against Iraq. Americans, however, refuse to wholeheartedly support a war against Iraq, preferring action with the support, even the leadership, of the United Nations. Nevertheless, Bush knows that if he allows the UN to block him from using his new-found resource of war popularity, he stands in jeopardy of seeing erode and with it, probably the election of 2004. So, he has reserved the right to invade Iraq despite UN sanction, and both the House and Senate have caved in, fearing that to do otherwise could hurt them in an election year.

While the war against Iraq looms as a major factor, a recent poll has the war at 25 percent support among the public, tied with the economy at 25 percent. This means that the potential war is competing with major domestic issues and it could overshadow them as voting issues.

This is why several journalists have questioned why, since all of the signs point to one of the worst economies in recent history, Democrats, traditionally associated with this issue, cannot get traction on it in the campaign. In bad economic times, the public generally thinks that things are on the “wrong track.” This judgment is usually linked to the party in power because they know that big changes could come. But this time, change doesn’t appear to be in the air because George Bush is getting a pass; his popularity on the war is his trump card.

The other problem here is that Democrats don’t appear to have an economic plan that moves people. For example, the other day, House Minority Leader Dick Gephart issued an economic plan, but it was very similar to one that would have been proposed by the Republicans. Gephart proposed a $75 billion tax cut and Republicans also have been touting a tax cut. In fact, George Bush wants to make permanent the $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut that already has been signed into law. Then, Democrats folded when Bush argued that the economy was so good that the Congress could afford to give people their money back. Now, with the national budget running a river of red ink, Democrats are trying to be popular instead of taking a principled stand and raising taxes, rather than cut vital social programs.

Few Democrats at the state level are running on raising taxes, even though state budgets also are shallow. Voters don’t appear concerned about where politicians will get the money to deal with their priorities such as health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, public and higher education, transportation and other issues. And when the ax begins to fall on their pet programs, politics will then get hot and heavy—but that will be after the elections.

Also, the fact that a madman was running around shooting people in the Washington, D.C., area has resulted in two distinct possible reactions. The first was that it has revived debate about gun control, addressing the fears of individuals who are now very sensitive to the harm that resulted in 13 people either killed or wounded so far. For instance, in the Maryland gubernatorial race, Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend ran an ad reminding peopl
 

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